The Situationist

The Situation of Our Food – Part V

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 6, 2010

Michael Pollan (a professor of science and environmental journalism at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California) has a new, short book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Pollan’s writing has been frequently featured on this blog because it is superb and because of his fascinating situationist perspective regarding our food “choices.”  Here is a blurb about the book from Pollan’s website.

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Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings a welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with the clarity, concision and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan’s trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page accompanied by a concise explanation. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, “What should I eat?”

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Here are a few excerprts from Jennifer Bain’s  telephone interview (for TheStar.com) of Michael Pollan about his new book.

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Q: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” is a powerful, memorable statement that was in In Defense of Food and now Food Rules and sums up your food philosophy. What effect has it had?

A: It has kind of entered the culture as a meme. I hear it all the time and see it on T-shirts. The idea was to make some very easy rules people would remember. The “mostly” (mostly plants) is controversial. It seems to annoy both carnivores and vegetarians.

Q: Now you’ve given us Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual with 64 digestible points/rules/personal policies. Why?

A: I did this because I was hearing from lots of medical professionals, doctors and parents that they would love to have something – a pamphlet, really – that pared things down to the essentials. I wanted to reduce the message and get it out to a lot of people who might not be ready or willing to read a whole book. I wanted to preach to beyond the choir. I spend a lot of time talking to upper-middle-class, affluent people, but talking to them about obesity and diabetes. I’m trying to reach a very broad audience. It’s meant to be user friendly, something where you can dive in anywhere and come back.

Q: You’ve nailed one of the biggest food problems with the term “edible foodlike substances.” Did you coin this phrase?

A: I think I did coin this phrase. I felt a big part of our problem is that we should eat “food” and a whole lot of things don’t deserve that designation. I felt I needed a counterpart to food to draw that distinction. I tried to be as value-neutral as I could.

Q: Rule 17: Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations. Does anybody want to cook anymore?

A: Yes and no. Many people feel they don’t have enough time to cook. Many people feel intimidated by cooking. Many do want to cook but are stymied by a lack or knowledge or equipment. I see inklings of a shift back to cooking, somewhat due to the economy. I think there are people rediscovering the kitchen right now. The more I look at this question, the collapse of cooking is a very big part of our problem all the way down to the farm.

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Q: Rule 46: Stop eating before you’re full and try to eat only to 67 to 80 per cent capacity. Easier said than done?

A: Once you start paying attention to it, it’s just about being mindful. Yeah, for most North Americans it is hard. We’ve been sort of taught by the culture to eat until you’re stuffed. The French say: “Je n’ai plus faim” – I have no more hunger. Ask yourself, before you take that bite, is my hunger gone?

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Q: Are you done with writing about food?

A: Um, no. I’m not. I have more to say. I want to write about cooking, and I want to learn how to cook better. I also have not written very much on the international food question – how you feed the world.

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Click on the following video to watch John Stewart’s (Daily Show, Monday 12/04/10) interview of Michael Pollan.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

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